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A look at the incoming L.A. Unified school board

July 03, 2007|Howard Blume | Times Staff Writer

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa achieved his goal of greater influence on the school board by raising money to elect endorsed candidates in three of four board races. Those three, along with incumbent Monica Garcia, give Villaraigosa a friendly majority on the seven-member body. But who are they, and what are their political and educational imperatives?

Yolie Flores Aguilar

District 5: Los Feliz, Eagle Rock, the Eastside, southeast cities.

Age: 44

Year elected: 2007

How she got here: She was swept into office with the mayor's support. She avoided a tough campaign when three-term incumbent David Tokofsky decided not to run.

Political imperatives: No apparent further ambitions. She lost a close race to Tokofsky in 1999.

Agenda: She is especially focused on struggling English-learners. She compiled a list of experts, including scholars who are at odds with the current phonics-based, mostly English approach. Says she wants to find out and use what works.

Power players alert: She was not happy when she heard about Supt. David L. Brewer's initial choice for chief academic officer. That selection fell through, Brewer said, over salary demands. She wants Brewer's next candidate to have more experience working with English-learners.

Power players alert II: She brought up pay-for-performance for teachers and limiting teacher tenure in a speech at a shindig to celebrate her upcoming term. Those are fighting words for some teachers. (She also brought up improving teaching conditions.)

Marlene Canter

District 3: West Hollywood, Westside, south edge of the San Fernando Valley.

Age: 59

Year elected: 2001

How she got here: She financed own multimillion-dollar campaign against an incumbent endorsed by the teachers union and another challenger backed by then-Mayor Richard Riordan.

Political imperatives: Heal rifts and remain relevant: She will probably lose her board presidency to Garcia today. Although it is largely ceremonial, the presidency comes with extra budget, more staff attention and a higher profile.

The record: She drove the campaign to ban sodas and junk food while improving school meals.

Agenda: She is pushing for a recently announced "innovation division," intended as the district's answer to independently run charter schools. It could also appease Westside parents who want to take back neighborhood schools.

Symbolic refrain: "Stand by your man." A proud supporter of the current superintendent, as she was of predecessor Roy Romer.

Tamar Galatzan

District 3: South and west San Fernando Valley.

Age: 37

Year elected: 2007

How she got here: She defeated one-term, teachers union-backed incumbent Jon M. Lauritzen, with a record-setting bankroll from the mayor's allies.

Political imperatives: Some observers predict that she'll compete for the seat of City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel should she run for citywide office, as expected.

Agenda: She is sensitive to the argument that Valley schools are shortchanged for resources, which could create friction with board members who represent lower-performing areas. She is much more in favor of charter schools than her predecessor.

Conflict-of-interest alert: The school district and the city are in litigation over DWP fees and tax revenues. She works as a deputy city attorney.

Help wanted? She has two boys (the oldest about to enter kindergarten); being a parent was a selling point. But with her day job and long board meetings, she'll need a baby-sitter with stamina. And the good news is the baby-sitter could earn more than the school board member.

Monica Garcia

District 2: Downtown and environs.

Age: 39

Year elected: 2006

How she got here: She sailed into office past a weak teachers union candidate with the blessing of the political establishment. Replaced her former boss, Jose Huizar, who had become a city councilman.

Political imperatives: Villaraigosa's wish has been her command, which doesn't hurt any future political ambitions.

The record: Since being elected, she's been the mayor's voice and ears on the school board. She is less predictable on matters unrelated to Villaraigosa. At a recent board meeting, for example, she found common ground with departing incumbent and mayoral irritant David Tokofsky over charter schools.

Agenda: At today's board meeting, she will unveil eight sweeping motions that, if adopted, would drive the long-term agenda on data, parent engagement, payroll systems, establishing and "transforming" schools. Is it an overdue revolution in progress, a wish list gone wild or micromanagement mania?

Amplification alert: She is known as the board member least in need of a microphone. If she becomes board president today, as expected, she will talk loudly and carry a big stick.

Julie Korenstein

District 6: North and east San Fernando Valley.

Age: 63

Year elected: 1987

How she got here: She has been elected six times with the backing of the teachers union.

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